The first steps of the Walk & Squawk Performance Project’s latest endeavor aren’t baby steps. Rather, The Walking Project: First Steps, is an experimental, broad-reaching multimedia event, not to mention a tremendously creative and ambitious undertaking. This special weekend of performance, expression and cross cultural exchange will include experimental theatre, art installations, a musical jam session and even a garage sale.
Some of the performances will be improvised on the spot. The theatrical portion of the event is presented as a work-in-progress, a performance art piece that continues to evolve as the actors explore characters and themes based on the paths people walk in life.
Founded in 1995 by Erika Block and Hilary Ramsden, the Walk & Squawk Performance Project is an experimental theater company based out of the Furniture Factory on Third Street, just south of the Wayne State University campus. The Walking Project itself has been brewing for over two years; it involves an ongoing exchange with South African artists from KwaZulu-Natal.
The basic seed of the project is to explore, compare and contrast the walking paths taken by South Africans crossing large fields, and Detroiters walking through the city’s numerous grassy abandoned lots. A finalized version of the project will premiere in 2005; until then, The First Steps is almost a sneak peak into the inner workings of this complex interdisciplinary vision.
Omri Nene is one of the South African artists involved in the project; he first connected with Block and Ramsden when they traveled to South Africa in 1998.
Ironically, when he first traveled to Detroit to begin work on The Walking Project, Nene was taken aback by the lack of walking in Detroit.
“I was surprised by the lack of people, its emptiness,” he says of downtown Detroit. “Nobody was walking around. Everyone was in their little cars.”
Detroit musician and poet Blair, a member of the band Urban Folk Collective and a national-award-winning poetry slam champ, is both performing in the theatrical piece and orchestrating the musical jam session.
“I saw a lot of potential in it and I thought it would be a very interesting project to be a part of,” says Blair, who lives within walking distance of the Furniture Factory. “I love performance, I love art, and it fit in my life perfectly.”
Blair has assembled a troupe of musicians and poets that includes folkie Audra Kubat, spoken-word man John Sinclair, rapper Invincible and many others. The troupe of performers will improv most of the session; and almost all of the performers will be on stage at the same time, working together to create one cohesive piece of music, sound and storytelling.
Artists from the Hannan House — a bustling activity center for Detroit seniors — have collaborated on an installation, Paths We’ve Walked, which explores both pathways in life and through the city of Detroit. Other highlights of the weekend include a workshop for people interested in exploring their own individual pathways through music and performance, a voter registration drive and a garage sale of the Furniture Factory’s costumes, props and furniture.
“This new direction is deepening community relationships,” says Block of the multidisciplinary outreach of the project, adding, “It gives us a chance to facilitate civic dialogue.”
“The scope of this has a lot more potential than what a conventional theater project allows. We’re looking at this as a catalyst.”
The Walking Project: First Steps takes place Friday, June 25, through Sunday, June 27, at the Furniture Factory, 4126 Third St. (between Willis and Alexandrine). Admission is on a sliding scale basis. For a complete schedule of the times and events, visit www.walksquawk.org, or call 313-832-8890.Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]